JOHN Cooper Clarke may be a poet not a musician, but he is still an absolute rock star. Swaggering on stage, pencil-thin legs in skin-tight trousers and sporting sunglasses and a floppy tweed cap large enough to contain his trademark ‘big’ hair, he oozes charisma and cool.

There’s also something comical a combination of his top heavy body form and the kind of unsmiling confidence which makes him look like he owns the place. Which, for the next hour and a bit, he does.

To describe John Cooper Clarke as a poet doesn’t come close to what he does. It’s like calling Paul McCartney a bass player or Bob Dylan a folk singer. Yes, this is poetry, but it’s also story-telling, confession and stand-up comedy, delivered with the poise, rhythm and vocal dexterity of a rapper.

Saturday night’s show at the New Theatre Oxford, was a masterclass in how the spoken word can out-rock rock music, and deft rhymes and slick couplets eclipse in laughter the routines of the biggest arena-filling comics.

Oxford Mail:

Heartfelt pieces about health, drugs and relationships are interspersed with throwaway gems of polished wit, thrown out like hand grenades, which take take several seconds to sink in. The audience are always two steps behind, the laughter coming in double bursts, first at the immediate joke and then again as depth charges of wordplay sink in and explode.

He’s a sprightly 72 but reflects at length on old age. He says he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, quipping: “There are three benefits of Alzheimers, one, you get to meet new people every day; two, you can hide your own Easter eggs, and three, you get to meet new people every day.”

Oxford Mail:

Highlights are a piece about the joys of hiring a car, about being described as an NHS ‘bed blocker’ (Bed Blocker Blues), Evidently Chickentown - which was propelled to a whole new audience by being included in The Sopranos soundtrack – and a rendition of classic 1970s portrait of deprivation Beasley Street, along with an updated version called Beasley Boulevard which sees said thoroughfare gentrified – as much of his native Salford has indeed been.

It seems ad-libbed and engagingly ragged, but that’s all part of the act (or is it?), and the best bits seem to be afterthoughts, such as his hilarious account of divorce. “We split the house 50/50,” he says.

“I got the outside”. Or when he compares marriage to playing cards - “It starts with hearts and diamonds but ends with clubs and spades”.

It’s the wry throwaway nuggets which captivate the audience the most though. “Imagine the Titanic with a lisp?” he says. “Unthinkable.” (Get it?)

Credit has to go to the support acts, gritty Mancunian Mike Garry and chirpy Essex lad Luke Wright who were each worth coming along for alone.

A fabulous night from three people redefining what it means to be a poet and showing you don’t have to wield a guitar to be a rock star.

Brilliant stuff.